National Public Radio did a story today on the ADA Restoration Act. The intent of the bill is to undo some of the damage done to the Americans with Disabilities Act by the federal courts, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court. As the article explains, courts have narrowed the definition of "disability", excluding many people from the law's protection because they have impairments that can be ameliorated with the help of drugs or medical devices. To borrow the article's example, a person with diabetes is not considered disabled if an insulin pump alleviates the symptoms of the impairment.
This kind of strained reasoning is indicative of society's misguided impulse to assess disability on the basis of, dare I say, freakishness. People in wheelchairs, people who are blind or deaf, people who talk to the voices in their heads; their obvious otherness makes it so easy for society to label these people as disabled. But when the distinction isn't as apparent, as is the case with most hidden disabilities, we become much more diffident. The legalistic notion that this person or that person isn't "disabled enough" is not so different from whistling while passing the graveyard; it allows us to ignore some uncomfortable truths. It allows us to ignore the fact that many perfectly normal-looking people can have significant impairments that can dramatically affect one's life. It allows us to ignore the fact that the gulf between disability and so-called "normalcy" isn't as wide as we might imagine (or hope).
The notion that some disabilities can be made to simply go away is a fiction and almost childish in the wishfulness it conveys. Diabetes can be managed with drugs in the same way my condition can be managed with a wheelchair. But in both cases, the underlying impairments and their complicating factors remain. The person with diabetes just looks more able-bodied. And in this culture, looks are everything.
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